September 2011

October 2011: Hilton Head and Bluffton MAYOR

Author: Drew Laughlin and Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Photography by Anne



With the public’s assistance, the Town of Hilton Head Island is simplifying the commercial permitting process based on Work Simplification Principles: listening to the customers, simplifying the process, and changing to a single accountability. Drs. Terry Ennis and Bob Gentzler volunteered to lead staff through this major ‘mapping’ effort.

Common Goals for improvement include:
- Project Advocate— creating a single point of contact for an applicant instead of dealing with several staff at once;

- Predictability— reducing appearances before boards and changing zoning to allow broader land uses;

- Flexibility— creating an attitude of ‘how to make the project work’ instead of just comparing the project with the law for compliance;

- Minimizing code interpretation subjectivity— resolving conflicts with the codes prior to meeting with the applicant;

- Streamlined process— reducing redundancies, hand-offs, and number of forms; making the project a priority; and reducing review times;

- User-friendly— writing the code for easier understanding; improving early education of process to applicant; and

- Computerizing the process.

1. Formation of Core Team. Four staff members were assigned to work with Drs. Ennis and Gentzler.

2. Mapping the “As Is” Process. The Team ‘mapped’ the existing process from the first moment an inquiry is made by an applicant, through permitting, construction and obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy. This was done with Post-Its on rolls of large paper and verified by numerous staff who actually processed these applications.

3. Stakeholder Interviews. Over 60 people were shown the “flowchart” and asked about their recent experience with the process. These stakeholders had various types of experience with the process, ranging from board members, council members, landscape architects, architects, contractors, lawyers, property owners, POA managers, and utility company managers. Their comments were instructive and considered during re-design.

4. Re-Design. The Team revised the process, creating a new, much simpler flowchart. Stakeholders were consulted to ensure the new process would work for them.

5. Future changes. The revised process will continue to improve through constant monitoring, customer surveys, future LMO re-writing, better public education, and improved computer interaction.

With this easier process, there will be time and cost savings to the applicant; common goals among Town staff and the applicant; and better communication, understanding, and encouragement for redevelopment of our unique Island.



For the past 18 months, town staff led a comprehensive rewrite of the current Unified Ordinance to draft the Town of Bluffton Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO is intended to unify the subdivision, land use, and development/design regulations into a single set of integrated, updated, and streamlined standards.

As directed by town council, the UDO offers the following:

- Develops a framework for growth throughout the Town of Bluffton that promotes economic development, generating a strong sense of place while including a variety of land use techniques for watershed and environmental protection;

- Implements the Town of Bluffton comprehensive plan;

- Includes cost-effective infrastructure development strategies;

- Establishes an updated approach to watershed protection;

- Complies with applicable state laws; and

- Provides clarity and streamlines the application review process, thereby improving customer service and creating staff efficiencies.

The UDO has been created with the input of hundreds. Public participation began on May 12, 2010, with a 6-day charrette, which provided an opportunity for interested parties to voice opinions and make suggestions for improving the physical development and appearance of our community. Based upon the input provided, the town and consultants began drafting the UDO. Beginning on February 22, 2011, the town began public review of the draft UDO through a series of 10 town council/planning commission public workshops to review, discuss, and gather input on each article. The last workshop occurred on August 2, 2011.

The formal adoption process began on August 24, 2011, with a public hearing before the planning commission, where it was recommended that town council approve the proposed UDO.

Town council held a public hearing and first reading of the ordinance to adopt the UDO at the September council meeting, followed by a public hearing and second and final reading in October.

A complete summary of the UDO adoption process, reports, workshop comments, frequently asked questions, and a copy of the UDO adoption draft and official zoning map can be found on the Unified Ordinance Overhaul link on the home page of the town website,

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article